367 U.S. 433 (1961), 181, Reck v. Pate

Docket Nº:No. 181
Citation:367 U.S. 433, 81 S.Ct. 1541, 6 L.Ed.2d 948
Party Name:Reck v. Pate
Case Date:June 12, 1961
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 433

367 U.S. 433 (1961)

81 S.Ct. 1541, 6 L.Ed.2d 948




No. 181

United States Supreme Court

June 12, 1961

Argued April 19, 1961




Petitioner, then a mentally retarded 19-year-old youth with no criminal record, was arrested in 1936 on suspicion of stealing bicycles. After being held virtually incommunicado and interrogated by groups of police officers for nearly four days while sick and faint, inadequately fed, without a hearing, and without the advice of counsel, family or friends, he confessed to participation in a murder. At his trial in an Illinois State Court for murder, his two written confessions were admitted in evidence over his timely objection, and he was convicted and sentenced to prison for 199 years.

Held: on the record in this case, petitioner's confessions were coerced, and the State violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by using them as evidence in his trial. Pp. 433-444.

274 F.2d 250, judgment vacated and case remanded.

STEWART, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

On the night of January 2, 1936, Dr. Silber C. Peacock, a Chicago physician, left his Edgewater Beach apartment in response to an emergency telephone call to attend a sick child. He never returned. The next day his lifeless body was found in his automobile on a Chicago street. It was apparent that he had been brutally murdered. On Wednesday, March 25, 1936, the petitioner,

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Emil Reck, and three others were arrested by the Chicago police on suspicion of stealing bicycles. Late the following Saturday afternoon, Reck confessed to participation in the murder of Dr. Peacock. The next day, he signed another written confession. At Reck's subsequent trial in the Criminal Court of Cook County, Illinois, the two confessions were, over timely objection, received in evidence against him. The jury found Reck guilty of murder, and he was sentenced to prison for a term of 199 years.

The conviction was affirmed by the Illinois Supreme Court, People v. Reck, 392 Ill. 311, 64 N.E.2d 526. Several years later, Reck filed a petition under the Illinois Post-Conviction Hearing Act alleging that his confessions had been procured by coercion and that their use as evidence at his trial had, therefore, violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.1 After a hearing, the Criminal Court of Cook County denied relief. The Supreme Court of Illinois affirmed the Criminal Court's finding that due process had not been violated at Reck's trial. Reck v. People, 7 Ill.2d 261, 130 N.E.2d 200. This Court denied certiorari "without prejudice to an application for a writ of habeas corpus in an appropriate United States District Court." Reck v. Illinois, 351 U.S. 942.

Reck then filed a petition for habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. The writ issued and, at the hearing, the District Court received in evidence the transcripts of all relevant proceedings in the Illinois courts.2 In an opinion

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reviewing in detail the circumstances surrounding Reck's confession, the District Court held "the Due Process Clause not violated in the instant case." 172 F.Supp. 734, 747. The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed, one judge dissenting, 274 F.2d 250, and we granted certiorari, 363 U.S. 838. The only question presented is whether the State of Illinois violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by using as evidence at Reck's trial confessions which he had been coerced into making.

The question whether there has been a violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by the introduction of an involuntary confession is one which it is the ultimate responsibility of this Court to determine. See Malinski v. New York, 324 U.S. 401, 404; Thomas v. Arizona, 356 U.S. 390, 393; Watts v. Indiana, 338 U.S. 49, 51-52. After thoroughly reviewing the record in this case, we are satisfied that the district judge's summary of the undisputed facts is accurate and complete. Neither in brief nor oral argument did the respondent take issue with these findings. No useful purpose would be served by attempting to paraphrase the district judge's words:

. . . Emil Reck was, at the time of this horrible crime, but nineteen years old. Throughout his life, he had been repeatedly classified as mentally retarded and deficient by psychologists and psychiatrists of the Institute for Juvenile Research in Chicago. At one time, he had been committed to an institution for the feebleminded, where he had spent a year. He dropped out of school at the age of 16, never having completed the 7th grade, and was found to have the intelligence of a child between 10 and 11 years of age at the time of his trial. Aside from his retardation, he was never a behavior problem, and bore no criminal record.

Page 436

Reck was arrested in Chicago without a warrant at 11:00 a.m. Wednesday, March 25, 1936, on suspicion of stealing bicycles. He was then shuttled between the North Avenue Police Station and the Shakespeare Avenue Police Station until 1:15 p.m., at which time he was returned to the North Avenue Police Station, and there interrogated, mainly [81 S.Ct. 1544] about bicycle thefts, until 6:30 or 7:00 p.m. He was then taken to the Warren Avenue Police Station, where he spent the night. During this time, he was fed a ham sandwich and coffee at the North Avenue Station and a bologna sausage sandwich at the North Avenue Station and a bologna sausage sandwich at the Warren Avenue Station.

On Thursday at 10:00 a.m., Reck was brought back to the North Avenue Station, where he was interrogated some six or seven hours about various crimes in the District. Afterwards, he was sent to the Shakespeare Station, and later that evening he was taken downtown to the Detective Bureau, where he was exhibited at a so-called "show-up." The record does not indicate where Reck spent the night. The record shows that Reck was fed an egg sandwich and a glass of milk on Thursday, but apparently nothing else.

The record is silent as to where Reck spent Friday morning, but it is clear that interrogation was resumed sometime in the early afternoon. Friday evening, over one hundred people congregated in the North Avenue Police Station, where Reck was exhibited on the second floor. Shortly after 7:00 p.m., Reck fainted, and was brought to the Cook County Hospital, where he was examined by an intern, who found no marks or bruises upon his body and rejected him for treatment. Reck was then taken directly back

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to the North Avenue Station, where he was immediately again placed on exhibition. He again became sick, and was taken to an unfurnished handball room, where a Sergeant Aitken, assigned to the Peacock murder investigation, questioned him about the Peacock murder for a short period of time. Reck again became sick, and a Dr. Abraham was called, who later testified that Reck was extremely nervous, that he was exposed, and that his shirt was unbuttoned and hanging outside of his pants. He was rubbing his abdomen and complaining of pain in that region. After an examination of 60 to 90 seconds, Dr. Abraham left, and Reck was questioned intermittently and exhibited to civilians until approximately 9:30 p.m., when he became ill and vomited a considerable amount of blood on the floor.

Reck was again brought to the Cook County Hospital at 10:15 p.m. on Friday, where he was placed in a ward and given injections of morphine, atropine, and ipecac twice during the evening. At about 2:00 a.m., two physicians, Doctor Scatliff and Doctor Day, who were members of a Chicago Medical Society which had been assisting the police in the Peacock murder, came at the request of Prosecutor Kearney to see if there were any marks of brutality on Reck. They found the door to Reck's room barred by a police officer. After securing permission from one, Police Captain O'Connell, they went in and found Reck asleep, and therefore made only a cursory examination in the dark which revealed nothing conclusive. At 9:00 a.m. on Saturday, Reck told Dr. Zachary Felsher of the Cook County Hospital that the police had been beating him in the stomach. He also told Dr. Weissman of the same hospital that he had been beaten in the abdomen and chest over

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a three-day period. This was the first time since his arrest some 70 hours before that Reck had conversed with any civilian outside the presence of police officers. His father had attempted to see Reck on Thursday and Friday at the North Avenue Police Station and on Saturday at the Cook County Hospital. Each time he was refused.

[81 S.Ct. 1545]

At 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, Reck was removed from the hospital in a wheelchair and was questioned about the Peacock murder as soon as he was transferred into Captain O'Connell's car to be transported to the North Avenue Police Station, where the questioning continued until the afternoon, when he was taken to the State's Attorney's office at approximately 2:00 p.m.

Previously to this, on Friday evening, two of the boys, Nash and Goeth, who had been arrested with Reck, had confessed to the murder of Dr. Peacock, implicating Reck and one other boy, Livingston. At about 3:00 a.m. on Saturday, Livingston also agreed to sign a confession. (Upon arraignment, Livingston pleaded not guilty and alleged that he was subjected to physical abuse by the police.)

On Saturday afternoon, Reck was questioned about the whereabouts of the gun which Goeth had told police that Reck possessed. After intensive interrogation, Reck admitted that Goeth had told him of the Peacock murder. About 4:30 p.m., in front of a group of officers and prosecutors, Reck was confronted with...

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